Sure Signs of Crazy by Karen Harrington is the kind of slightly dark book that I think reader-girls eat up. When I was in that older middle grade/young YA age, I remember reading every book I could about girls suffering with anorexia, girls with other afflictions like loss of hearing or sight, and others in that vein.
The only information Sarah Nelson has about her mother is from cards she receives twice a year (her birthday and Christmas) and whatever she turns up when she does a Google search. Sarah’s mom Jane is in a mental hospital, locked up by the state after she tried to drown Sarah and her twin brother Simon when they were 2, killing Simon. It won’t surprise you that 12-year-old Sarah is constantly checking herself for “sure signs of crazy.” She doesn’t think that she’s made a confidant of Plant, her plant, puts her there; nor does standing on the stump in her yard surveying from on high, or collecting words like some people collect marbles. And we don’t either. Sarah’s not crazy. She’s a normal 12-year-old kid, and I think that hopeful fact alone helped this novel to rise above what could be awfully depressing.
Unfortunately, though Sarah seems amazingly unscarred by her past, her father is not. He drinks. A lot. He moves he and Sarah around each time “The Nelson case” ends up back in the news. He and Sarah don’t talk. He’s a very sad person.
In spite of their poor communication habits, Sarah is able to convince him that she wants to stay with him in Garland, Texas for the summer before her 7th grade year, instead of being shipped off to her grandparents’ house in Houston. The college girl across the street agrees to keep an eye on her. Between her fixation on a boy who works at the mall and Sarah’s best friend’s list that must be achieved before 7th grade (including french kissing a boy), it’s no wonder that Sarah ends up crushing on the college boy across the street and flirting with the lawn boy who doesn’t speak English.
We get to know Sarah’s thoughts through her diary (her “real” diary where she shares all her thoughts, as opposed to the decoy diary she keeps to keep people from hunting for the real one) and also through letters she writes to Atticus Finch, a summer assignment that her English teacher gave them to write to a favorite character. We also see her interactions with her babysitter and her dad. This combination of narratives gives us illuminating insight into this interesting character.
Whether girls are attracted to this book for the scandalous subjects or the hope-for-romance or the literary allusions, it’s a book that hits those targets nicely. At first, I thought it might be one of those “too precious” books, the collecting words and over the top horribleness of her situation gave me pause, but in the end, it was sweet and funny and touching in all the right ways.
I’ve linked up again to Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday. Click over to read some other marvelous thoughts on kidlit.
Though I’m a Cybils Middle Grade Fiction judge, my opinions are simply my own.